Filmmaker Sam Pollard speaks to the enduring allure of jazz

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Sam Pollard. Photo credit: Netflix

Director and editor Sam Pollard is best known for shining a light on African American history, culture, and social issues in his films. His latest project, HBO’s South to Black Power, focuses on writer and commentator Charles M. Blow, as he calls for a "reverse Great Migration" of African Americans to the southern part of the US to attain more political power.

More: Director Sam Pollard on Bill Russell’s greatness

In his twenties, Pollard underwent a transformative shift as he discovered a passion for jazz through a childhood friend. Introduced to the vibrant realm of improvisation by jazz greats like Horace Silver, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk, Pollard found himself immersed in a new creative sphere. His Treat shares how this journey into jazz left an indelible mark on his early career, profoundly influencing his artistic perspective and approach.

More: Director Sam Pollard pairs passions for baseball and Black history in The League 

More: Sam Pollard on the ‘cultural bouillabaisse’ of America

This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 

1967-68, I used to have a buddy of mine named Glenn Laurie who was a drummer and I would go to his house. I would listen to him playing all these records with Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, and Lou Donaldson. 

Horace Silver - Song for My Father

I grew up listening to The Temptations, Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips… I didn't hear this jazz music. I couldn't understand why he was so excited, you know, so engaged with listening to these instrumentals.

Going to his house every other day listening to these jazz musicians, besides Horace and Art Blakey, also Chico Hamilton and Thelonious Monk. One day, he put on one of these records and all of a sudden my brain opened up. I could hear the improvisation. I could understand the organized creation of these instrumentals, be it a saxophonist, be it a trumpet player, be it a pianist, be it a drummer.

My Favorite Things - John Coltrane

And then that led to opening this wide door for me. [There was] a library [in New York City] where you could listen to records. Every other day, like two or three days a week, I'd go down to the library across the street from MOMA. I’d pull out records, and I’d listen to the music of Thelonious Monk. I'd listen to the saxophone playing of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. I’d listen to the piano work of Bud Powell and Bill Evans. I’d listen to the drumming of Art Blakey and Max Roach. My whole world changed when I got introduced to jazz. [I] really dug into it.

It became so special for me that by the time I was 20, I decided to pick up an instrument myself. My father bought me a saxophone and I got saxophone lessons for three years. I really enjoyed the music and loved being such a major fan of jazz. It informed my work when I became a young editor in my 20s in New York City. So that was a groundbreaking [and] exhilarating turning point in my life.

'Round Midnight - Thelonious Monk (1947)




Rebecca Mooney